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Ear Infection in Children


What do I need to know about an ear infection?

An ear infection is also called otitis media. Children are most likely to get ear infections when they are between 6 months and 3 years old. Ear infections are most common during the winter and early spring months, but can happen any time during the year. Your child may have an ear infection more than once.

What causes an ear infection in children?

Your child may get an ear infection when the eustachian tubes become swollen or blocked. Eustachian tubes drain fluid away from the middle ear. Your child may have a buildup of fluid and pressure in the ear when he or she has an ear infection. The ear may become infected by germs. The germs grow easily in fluid trapped behind the eardrum.

Ear Anatomy

What increases my child's risk for an ear infection?

  • Daycare or school
  • Being around people who smoke
  • A brother, sister, or parent with a history of ear infections
  • An ear infection before 6 months of age
  • Health conditions such as cleft palate or Down syndrome
  • Use of pacifiers after 10 months of age
  • Flat position when he or she drinks a bottle

What are the signs and symptoms of an ear infection in children?

  • Fever
  • Ear pain or tugging, pulling, or rubbing of the ear
  • Decreased appetite from painful sucking, swallowing, or chewing
  • Fussiness, restlessness, or difficulty sleeping
  • Yellow fluid or pus coming from the ear
  • Difficulty hearing
  • Dizziness or loss of balance

How is an ear infection in children diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will look inside your child's ears. He or she may blow a puff of air inside your child's ears. This may show if your child's eardrums are healthy. If your child's eardrum is infected, it will not move as it should. A tympanogram is another test that may be done. During the test, an ear plug is put into each of your child's ears. Air pressure is used to see how the eardrum moves. It can help your child's healthcare provider learn if your child has fluid in his or her middle ear.

How is an ear infection in children treated?

  • Medicines may be given to decrease your child's pain or fever, or to treat an infection caused by bacteria.
  • Ear tubes are often used to keep fluid from collecting in your child's ears. Your child may need these to help prevent frequent ear infections or hearing loss. Ask your child's healthcare provider for more information on ear tubes.

What can I do to help prevent an ear infection?

  • Wash your and your child's hands often to help prevent the spread of germs. Ask everyone in your house to wash their hands with soap and water. Ask them to wash after they use the bathroom or change a diaper. Remind them to wash before they prepare or eat food.
  • Keep your child away from people who are ill, such as sick playmates. Germs spread easily and quickly in daycare centers.
  • If possible, breastfeed your baby. Your baby may be less likely to get an ear infection if he or she is breastfed.
  • Do not give your child a bottle while he or she is lying down. This may cause liquid from the sinuses to leak into his or her eustachian tube.
  • Keep your child away from people who smoke.
  • Vaccinate your child. Ask your child's healthcare provider about the shots your child needs. Vaccines may help prevent infections that can cause an ear infection.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You see blood or pus draining from your child's ear.
  • Your child seems confused or cannot stay awake.
  • Your child has a stiff neck, headache, and a fever.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child is still not eating or drinking 24 hours after he or she takes medicine.
  • Your child has pain behind his or her ear or when you move the earlobe.
  • Your child's ear is sticking out from his or her head.
  • Your child still has signs and symptoms of an ear infection 48 hours after he or she takes medicine.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.